"Extreme Vetting" Comes to Fruition as USCIS Plans to Interview Employment-Based

August 29, 2017

By Joanna L. Silver

Last week, a spokesperson for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirmed that in-person interviews will now be required for employment-based nonimmigrant visa holders (e.g., H-1B, O-1, etc.) applying to adjust their status to permanent residents (“green card” holders).  Information currently available from the USCIS indicates that this interview requirement is expected to take effect on October 1, 2017.  This mandate appears to be a result of the Trump administration’s plan to apply “extreme vetting” to immigrants and visitors traveling to the U.S.

Traditionally, employment-based adjustment of status applicants have not been interviewed as part of the process, unless deemed necessary by the government. The interview mandate will most likely lengthen the processing times for green card applications as approximately 130,000 employment-based applications are filed annually with the USCIS.  Currently, the USCIS is taking more than 6 months to process employment-based green card applications at its various service centers throughout the United States.

There is no word on where the USCIS intends to conduct interviews pursuant to this mandate. We will provide updates as additional information becomes available.

Paid Family Leave: Week 4 of Q&As

August 25, 2017

By Kerry W. Langan and Caroline M. Westover

The Q&As for this week focus on the application of PFL to higher education institutions.

Question:  Are private colleges and universities covered by PFL?

Answer:  Yes.  Private colleges and universities are deemed to be covered employers under PFL.  However, if these colleges and universities are not-for-profit organizations, they may be deemed to be covered employers, but may also have some employees who are not covered by PFL.  Specifically, employees engaged in a “professional” or teaching capacity for not-for-profit educational institutions are excluded from the definition of employee under the law.  Certainly, higher education institutions can extend coverage to these exempt classes of individuals if they choose to do so.

Question:  Are state colleges and universities covered by PFL?

AnswerNo, to the extent that such institutions fall within the definition of a “public employer.”  PFL does not apply to public employers, which includes the following entities:  the state, a political subdivision of the state, a public authority, or any other governmental agency or instrumentality.

Question:  Can state colleges and universities voluntarily choose to provide benefits under the PFL law?

Answer:  Yes.  Public employers are permitted to opt in to PFL.  The process for opting in is slightly different for unionized and non-unionized employers.  If a public employer chooses to cover its non-unionized workers, it must provide 90 days’ advance notice of its decision to opt in to not only the WCB, but to all employees who will be required to make PFL contributions.  In order for a public employer to cover/opt in its unionized employees, the public employer must engage in collective bargaining and reach consensus/agreement with the applicable union.  Once an agreement is reached, the employer must notify the WCB that an agreement has been reached and provide certain information to the WCB.

Question:  Are higher education institutions who currently provide voluntary state disability insurance coverage (DBL) to their employees also required to provide PFL?

Answer:  No.  However, if these higher education institutions currently provide voluntary DBL coverage to their employees, they must notify both the employees and the WCB whether they will also provide voluntarily PFL coverage.  Notification must be made by no later than December 1, 2017.

Question:  Are student employees entitled to PFL?

Answer:  Yes, provided they satisfy the requisite eligibility criteria.  Student employees are treated in the same manner as any other employee.  If the student employee is regularly scheduled to work at least 20 hours per week, he/she is eligible to take PFL after he/she has been employed for 26 weeks.  If the student employee is regularly scheduled to work less than 20 hours per week, he/she is eligible to take PFL after working 175 days.

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For more information and updates on PFL, please continue to visit our blog.

If you have any questions about PFL, please contact the authors of this post, any of the attorneys in our Labor and Employment Law Practice, or the Bond attorney with whom you regularly work.

Paid Family Leave: Week 3 of Q&As

August 16, 2017

By Christa Richer Cook and Kristen E. Smith

So here is Week 3 of Bond’s New York Paid Family Leave (“PFL”) Q&As.  This week we are focusing on which employers are and are not covered.  We also answer your questions about what certain exempt employers (i.e., those who are not required to have PFL coverage) must do in order to opt in for voluntary PFL coverage.  In fact, certain exempt employers have an obligation to make a decision by December 1, 2017, as to whether to opt in for PFL coverage and will be required to report their decision to the NYS Workers Compensation Board (“WCB”).

Question:  Are there any employers in New York that are not covered by PFL?

Answer:  Yes.  In light of the fact that PFL is intended to piggy back onto the Disability Benefits Law (“DBL”), it applies to any entity considered a covered employer under DBL.  While all private sector employers in New York that have one or more employees are subject to and have to comply with DBL, and now PFL, the same exclusions as to who is a “covered employer” apply.  Thus, employers exempt from DBL are also exempt from PFL.  PFL does not apply to public sector employers, including the state, any political subdivision of the state, a public authority, or any other governmental agency or instrumentality.  This exemption applies to cities, villages, towns, public libraries, public authorities, municipalities, fire districts, water districts, and school districts.

There are also a few others who are not required to provide PFL benefits, including owners/shareholders of a corporation with no employees, owners/shareholders of partnerships, LLCs, LLPs with no employees, individuals who employ personal or domestic workers that work less than 40 hours per week, Native American enterprises (i.e., casinos), self-employed individuals, or sole proprietors and members of an LLC/LLP.

Question:  Can public sector employers choose to be covered under the PFL law?

Answer:  Yes.  The PFL regulations lay out the process a public employer must follow if it elects to opt in.  The process is slightly different for unionized and non-unionized employers.  If a public employer chooses to cover its non-unionized workers, it must provide 90 days’ notice of its decision to opt in.  The notice must tell employees that the payroll deduction will not exceed the maximum amount allowed by law.

Not surprisingly, in order for a public employer to cover its employees who are represented by a union, it must engage in collective bargaining and obtain the agreement of the union.  Once an agreement is reached, the employer must notify the WCB for approval.

Notably, public employers are the only employers who can elect to provide DBL only, PFL only, or both DBL and PFL coverage.  Public employers who elect to provide PFL must maintain it for at least one year.  Prior to discontinuing voluntary PFL coverage, the public employer must provide 12 months’ written notice to the WCB and the affected employees.  Those employers will also need to have made provisions for the payment of any benefits incurred on and prior to the effective termination date of such benefits.

Question:  Are public sector employers who are already providing voluntary DBL coverage required to also provide PFL?

Answer:  No.  However, public sector employers who currently provide voluntary DBL to their employees must notify their employees and the WCB whether they will or will not be providing PFL to their employees.  This decision must be made and reported to the WCB by December 1, 2017.

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Please continue to visit our blog for weekly Q&As during August 2017 and other PFL updates throughout the fall.

If you have any questions about PFL, please contact the authors of this post, any of the attorneys in our Labor and Employment Law Practice, or the Bond attorney with whom you regularly work.

Paid Family Leave: Week 2 of Q&As

August 9, 2017

By Christa Richer Cook and Kristen E. Smith

Welcome to Week 2 of Bond’s New York Paid Family Leave (“PFL”) Q&As.  Many of the most commonly asked questions during Bond’s PFL webinars focused on the intersection of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the Disability Benefits Law (“DBL”) and PFL.  In this post, we answer some of those questions.

Question:  Can an employee save their PFL time and take it after having already taken 12 weeks of FMLA?  Or vice versa, save their FMLA time and use it after taking PFL?

Answer:  Like every good legal question, the answer is . . . it depends.  More specifically, it depends on the reason for the leave.  It is important to bear in mind that the qualifying reasons for FMLA and PFL are like intersecting circles.  While there are some reasons that fall under both laws, there are some leaves that will be covered only by FMLA, and some that will be covered only by PFL.  So, an employee can only “save” one type of leave or “stack” the two leaves if one of the leaves (or part of a leave) qualifies under only one law.

To demystify this interplay, let’s take a few potential scenarios:

  • Karen takes leave to care for a grandparent with a serious health condition beginning in January 2018 for 8 weeks.  This is a PFL qualifying reason, but not an FMLA qualifying reason.  (Grandparents are a covered family member under PFL, but not under FMLA.)  Therefore, when Karen returns to work, she still has her full 12-week entitlement under FMLA.  In October 2018, Karen’s daughter has surgery and she needs 6 weeks off.  Although she has exhausted her PFL leave, she still has her entire FMLA bank of 12 weeks available (assuming the 1,250 threshold of hours is met) because the January leave did not count against her FMLA entitlement.  Karen ends up taking 14 job-protected weeks off in 2018 (and still has 6 weeks of FMLA time to spare!).
  • Ed takes leave in February 2018 because he is having bunion surgery.  His surgeon takes him out of work for 6 weeks.  This is an FMLA qualifying leave, but not PFL because an employee’s own serious health condition is not covered under PFL.  In July 2018, Ed’s father has a stroke.  Ed requests 10 weeks off because his father is undergoing rehabilitation.  Ed only has 6 more weeks of FMLA.  However, he still has 8 weeks of PFL leave that he has not yet touched!  Here is where things get more complicated:  Is Ed entitled to a total of 14 more weeks (6 FMLA + 8 PFL)?  No!  The first 6 weeks would count as both FMLA and PFL.  His father’s serious health condition is covered under both laws.  After 6 weeks, FMLA runs out, but Ed can stay out an additional 2 weeks under PFL.  In the end, he is entitled to only 8 more weeks — not the 10 he requested.  The employer could deny the additional 2 weeks.
  • Jeremy is a new father in 2018.  He has heard about these laws, and knows that FMLA provides 12 weeks and PFL provides 8 weeks (in 2018).  He requests 20 weeks to bond with his new baby boy.  Is he eligible for 20 weeks?  No.  In this case, the reason for the leave (bonding) qualifies under both laws.  Assuming Jeremy has met the eligibility requirements under both laws, the employer can require that the leaves be taken concurrently.  The 12 weeks (FMLA) and 8 weeks (PFL) run at the same time.  He can only take a total of 12 weeks of job-protected leave.

Question:  In that last example, couldn’t Jeremy say that he does not want to be paid for the first 12 weeks (the FMLA period) and refuse to file a PFL claim, in an attempt to save the PFL leave?

Answer:  No.  The PFL regulations provide that if a leave qualifies under FMLA and PFL, the employer designates the leave under FMLA, and the employee is notified that it is covered under both laws, the FMLA leave time will count against the employee’s PFL entitlement even if the employee refuses to file a PFL claim.

Question:  Can you review the maternity leave scenario again?

Answer:  Maternity leave promises to be the most confusing to administer because of the intersection of PFL, FMLA, and DBL.  Here is how it could play out in a typical pregnancy:  The first 6-8 weeks after childbirth is usually considered a period of disability, so the mother could use her DBL benefits without touching her PFL bonding benefit.  Then, when she completes that 6-8 week period, she could transition to PFL bonding leave and receive the 8 (eventually 12) week benefit after the DBL benefit.  Meanwhile, FMLA runs concurrently with both the DBL and then the PFL leave.  However, the mother’s leave entitlement does not end at the expiration of the 12 weeks of FMLA leave because under state law, she is entitled to the full 8 week PFL benefit once she finishes her DBL benefit.  The total job-protected time taken (assuming 6 weeks of DBL) is 14 weeks (6 + 8) in 2018.

Question:  Can a mother choose to forego DBL and go straight to PFL?

Answer:  Yes, once the baby is born, but it will reduce the total number of weeks she can be out on job-protected leave.  The mother could elect to start PFL bonding leave on the delivery date.  The 8 weeks of PFL would run concurrently with FMLA, and she would be entitled to a total of 12 weeks of leave.

Question:  We heard that intermittent leave under PFL can be taken in full day increments, and nothing shorter.  If an employee wants to take shorter increments, can the employee use just FMLA leave?  Does that count against his/her PFL entitlement?

Answer:  Luckily, the regulations address this very scenario.  If an employee takes FMLA leave in increments shorter than a day, and if the reasons for the leave would also qualify under PFL, the employer may track this time, and when “the total hours taken for FMLA in less than full day increments reaches the number of hours in an employee’s usual work day, the employer may deduct one day of paid family leave benefits from an employee’s annual available family leave benefit.”  However, “[t]he employer shall not be entitled to reimbursement from its carrier for such paid FMLA hours.”  12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 380-2.5(g)(5).

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Please continue to visit our blog for weekly Q&As during August 2017 and other PFL updates throughout the fall.

If you have any questions about PFL, please contact the authors of this post, any of the attorneys in our Labor and Employment Law Practice, or the Bond attorney with whom you regularly work.

Paid Family Leave: Week 3 of Q&As

July 31, 2017

By Christa Richer Cook and Kristen E. Smith

Thank you to everyone who attended Bond’s webinar on New York Paid Family Leave (“PFL”) on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.  We had a tremendous turnout and received hundreds of questions.  While we didn’t have the opportunity during the webinar to address all of the inquiries that we received, we noted afterwards that many employers raised the same questions.  Accordingly, for the month of August, we will be posting a weekly blog article dedicated to answering some of the most frequently asked questions we received during the webinar.  We hope this follow-up will be helpful to employers in preparation for the launch of PFL in 2018.

Today’s PFL Q&As focus on taking leave to provide care for a family member with a serious health condition.

Question:  Can I use PFL to care for my family member with a serious health condition, if the family member lives in a different state?

Answer:  The PFL regulations are not entirely clear on this point.  However, the Workers’ Compensation Board (“WCB”) takes the position that an eligible employee may take PFL to care for a family member who lives in another state.  The key here is that the employee is in “close and continuing proximity to the care recipient,” which the WCB has interpreted to mean in the same general location as the family member receiving the care.  So, for example, if an employee requests PFL to care for a grandparent living in Texas, the employee would need to physically go to Texas to provide care in order to be covered under the PFL.

Question:  What constitutes “providing care” for a family member with a serious health condition?

Answer:  Providing care includes necessary physical care, assistance with essential daily living matters, assistance in treatment, and personal attendant services.  It also includes emotional support, visitation, transportation, and/or arranging for changes in care.

Question:  Can I take PFL to care for an adult child?

Answer:  Yes.  Unlike the FMLA, which contains limits on an individual’s ability to take leave for an adult child, the PFL permits a qualified employee to care for any child with a serious health condition, regardless of the child’s age.

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Please continue to visit our blog for weekly Q&As during August 2017 and other PFL updates, as appropriate.

If you have any questions about PFL, please contact the authors of this post, any of the attorneys in our Labor and Employment Law Practice, or the Bond attorney with whom you regularly work.

U.S. Department of Labor Issues Request for Information on White Collar Exemption Regulations

July 26, 2017

By Subhash Viswanathan

Today, July 26, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) published a Request for Information (“RFI”) in the Federal Register regarding the regulations defining the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and computer employees.  Public comments can be submitted by any of the methods set forth in the RFI by September 25, 2017.

Before summarizing some of the subjects on which the USDOL is soliciting input from the public, here is a quick review of the history of the USDOL’s efforts to revise its FLSA white collar exemption regulations.  As you certainly recall (who can forget?), the USDOL issued final regulations last year increasing the salary threshold from $455.00 per week to $913.00 per week in order to qualify for the executive, administrative, professional, and computer employee exemptions.  Those regulations were supposed become effective December 1, 2016.  However, shortly before the effective date, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the USDOL from implementing its revised regulations based on its holding that Congress intended the white collar exemptions to be defined with regard to duties — not with regard to a minimum salary level.  The USDOL appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In its recent reply brief, the USDOL stated that it no longer wishes to argue in support of the $913.00 salary level, but instead only intends to argue that it has the authority to establish a salary level test for the white collar exemptions.  The USDOL informed the Fifth Circuit that it intends to undertake further rulemaking to determine what the appropriate salary level should be if the Court holds that it has the authority to establish a minimum salary level.

The USDOL’s publication of this RFI is a preliminary step toward its issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking.  There are many questions posed by the USDOL in its RFI.  Some noteworthy questions are:

  • Would updating the 2004 salary level ($455.00 per week) for inflation be an appropriate basis for setting the standard salary level and, if so, what measure of inflation should be used?
  • Should the regulations contain multiple standard salary levels and, if so, how should these levels be set:  by size of employer, census region, census division, state, metropolitan statistical area, or some other method?
  • Should the regulations contain different salary levels for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions?
  • To what extent did employers, in anticipation of the implementation of the $913.00 per week salary level, increase salaries of exempt employees to retain their exempt status?
  • To what extent did employers intend to convert exempt employees to non-exempt status in anticipation of the implementation of the $913.00 per week salary level, but change their implicit hourly rates so that the total amount paid would remain the same even with overtime?
  • Would a duties-only test for the white collar exemptions be preferable?
  • Should the salary levels be automatically updated on a periodic basis and, if so, what mechanism and what time period should be used for the automatic updates?

It is a positive development for employers that the USDOL no longer intends to defend the increase in the minimum salary level to $913.00 per week in order to qualify for the executive, administrative, professional, and computer employee exemptions.  However, the USDOL will likely propose some changes to its white collar exemption regulations upon receipt of input from the public with respect to its RFI and after the Fifth Circuit issues its decision.  Those proposed changes could include an increase in the minimum salary level, but such a proposed increase will almost certainly not be as drastic as the one that nearly went into effect last year.

Ready, Set, Go! New York Adopts Final Paid Family Leave Regulations

July 19, 2017

By Kristen E. Smith, Caroline M. Westover, Kerry W. Langan, and Christa Richer Cook

The New York Workers’ Compensation Board published its final regulations implementing the New York Paid Family Leave Law today, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.  The final regulations largely mirror the proposed regulations issued on May 24, but the Board provided further clarification in certain areas.  For example, in its commentary, the Board clarified the rules applicable to coverage of out-of-state employees, the measurement of “days worked” as applied to part-time employees, and how to calculate an employee’s average weekly wage.  Core provisions, such as PFL coverage, eligibility, and interplay with other leave laws, remain the same.

Bond will discuss the final regulations in more detail at a live, complimentary webinar on July 25, 2017 (1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.).  Click here to register for the webinar.  In addition, please continue to follow Bond’s New York Labor & Employment Law Report for additional updates leading up to the January 1, 2018 effective date of PFL in New York.

Now that the regulations are final, employers should begin, in earnest, to modify existing leave policies and processes to incorporate PFL requirements, and to develop new PFL policies that provide employees with information about their rights and obligations under the law.  Bond’s team of labor and employment attorneys are at the ready to answer questions and guide employers through this process.

If you have any questions about PFL, please contact the authors of this post, any of the attorneys in our Labor and Employment Law Practice, or the Bond attorney with whom you regularly work.

An Update on OSHA’s Electronic Injury and Illness Reporting Rules

July 19, 2017

By Michael D. Billok

We have received a number of questions about the current status of OSHA’s new electronic injury and illness reporting rule, upon which we have previously reported here and here.  There is, yet again, more to report!

First things first:  the implementation date of the rule has been delayed from July 1, 2017, to December 1, 2017.  The reason for the delay is to give the new administration an opportunity to determine whether any changes to the rule are warranted as well as to give employers time to familiarize themselves with electronic reporting.  The Department of Labor did seek additional comments as part of the process.  We will keep you posted regarding any further delays in the implementation of, or changes to, the rule.

Second, the rule will likely go into effect in some form:  OSHA announced that its website at which employers can submit their Form 300A electronically will be live as of August 1 here.  All employers must submit their 2016 Form 300A via the website before December 1, 2017.

USCIS Moves Forward with Revised I-9 Employment Eligibility Form

July 17, 2017

By Alyssa N. Campbell

Today, July 17, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) released a new Form I-9 to replace the prior form which it released back in late January  of this year. For now, employers will have a 60-day grace period, giving them the option to use the updated form (Rev. 07/17/17 N) or continue using the previous Form I-9 (Rev. 11/14/2016 N) until September 17, 2017. As of September 18, 2017, however, employers must use the updated form for the initial employment verification for all new hires, as well as any applicable employment re-verifications. All prior versions of the Form I-9 will no longer be valid. The new Form I-9 has an expiration date of August 31, 2019.

Initially, the planned revisions to the Form I-9 were primarily meant to address USCIS’ proposed International Entrepreneur Rule, which was originally set to go into effect on July 17, 2017. Under the proposed rule, a foreign passport and Form I-94 indicating entrepreneur parole would be considered acceptable documentation for a foreign entrepreneur to use for employment eligibility verification purposes.  However, with the Trump administration’s freeze on all new regulations, the effective date for the International Entrepreneur Rule has been pushed back until March 14, 2018. Despite the delayed effective date for the proposed rule, the USCIS has still implemented a number of revisions to the form.

The good news for employers is that the current changes are relatively minor and should not have a major impact on the hiring and employment verification process. A summary of the revisions to the new Form I-9 appears below.

Revisions to the Form I-9 instructions:

  • The anti-discrimination and privacy act notices on the instructions are revised to change the name of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-related Unfair Employment Practices to its new name, “Immigrant and Employee Rights Section”.
  • The phrase “the end of” is removed from the phrase “the first day of employment”.

Revisions related to the List of Acceptable Documents on Form I-9:

  • The Consular Report of Birth Abroad (“Form FS-240”) has been added as a new “List C” document. Employers completing Form I-9 online are now able to select Form FS-240 from the drop-down menus available in List C of Section 2 and Section 3. E-Verify users are also able to choose Form FS-240 when creating cases for employees who have presented this document for Form I-9.
  • All certifications of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form FS-545, Form DS-1350 and Form FS-240) are now combined into one selection within List C.
  • As a result of the combination, all List C documents (with the exception of the Social Security card) are now renumbered.

According to a press release issued by the USCIS, in an attempt to make the revised Form I-9 more user friendly, all of the latest changes to the form will be included in a revised Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 (M-274).

Although the changes to Form I-9 are minimal, with the new administration’s heightened immigration enforcement, employers should consider reviewing their I-9 procedures and records to ensure compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”). If you have questions about the new Form I-9 or I-9 compliance issues, please contact the Bond Immigration Practice Group.

Travel Ban Tweaked Again: U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii Expands Definition of Close Familial Relationship to Include Grandparents and Others

July 14, 2017

By Joanna L. Silver

As a result of an order issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii last night, foreign nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are now considered exempt from President Trump’s travel ban if they are coming to the U.S. to visit with grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. In addition, the court held that the travel ban cannot be enforced against refugees from the six countries who have formal assurance from a resettlement agency in the U.S. for placement.

The District of Hawaii’s order greatly expands the number of people who are exempt from the travel ban which, as we reported earlier, was partially reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in a per curiam decision issued at the close of its term late last month.  Previously, under the Supreme Court’s decision and implementing FAQs issued by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State, foreign nationals from the six banned countries could only travel to the U.S. to visit with parents, spouses, siblings, fiancés, children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

We will continue to report on any additional developments as they unfold.

FAQs — The Things You Want (And Need) To Know About New York’s Paid Family Leave Law

July 10, 2017

By Jessica C. Moller

If you work in human resources anywhere in New York, you have inevitably heard about New York’s new paid family leave law (“PFL”).  But other than what the law’s name implies — that there will now be a form of paid family leave available to employees in this state — what are the administrative and practical implications that this new law will have on your workplace?  You are not alone if you have questions, and more questions, about what this new law will entail.  Although we are still waiting for final regulations to be issued by the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board that would definitively answer many questions being raised, based on the statutory language and the proposed regulations that are currently pending, here are answers to some of the more frequently asked questions regarding New York’s PFL.

1.  Does this new law apply to my employer?

Whether the PFL applies to a particular employer depends on whether the employer operates in the public or private sector.  All private sector employers in New York that have one or more employees are subject to and have to comply with the PFL.  In other words, this new law applies to virtually all private sector employers in New York State.

By contrast, however, the PFL does not apply to public sector employers unless the particular public employer has elected to opt in to provide benefits under the PFL.  Public employers whose employees are not represented by a union may opt in to the PFL if those non-unionized employees are given 90 days’ notice of the employer’s decision to opt in.  Public employers whose employees are represented by a union also have the option of opting in provided the employer and union negotiate the issue and agree to do so.

2.  When does the PFL take effect?

Covered employers are required to begin providing paid family leave benefits to eligible employees on January 1, 2018, and employees must contribute via payroll deduction to the cost of those benefits as of that same date.  However, covered employers are permitted to, but do not have to, begin collecting deductions from employees as early as July 1, 2017.

3.  For what reasons can an eligible employee take paid family leave?

Unlike the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), an employee’s own serious health condition is not a qualifying reason under the PFL.  Otherwise, the qualifying reasons for leave under the PFL are similar to those already provided under the FMLA — i.e., to bond with a new child (either the birth, adoption, or placement in foster care); to provide care for a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, spouse, or domestic partner with a serious health condition; and for qualifying exigencies arising from military service of the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent.  What qualifies as a “serious health condition” or a “qualifying exigency” under the PFL is consistent with what qualifies under the FMLA.

4.  Are all employees eligible for this leave, or is there a threshold amount of time an employee needs to work before becoming eligible, like there is under the FMLA?

Although the PFL and FMLA are similar in several respects, the eligibility requirements under the two laws are quite different.  Under the FMLA, an employee must have actually worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in addition to being employed for a year preceding a period of leave before the employee becomes eligible for leave.  However, under the PFL, the only eligibility criteria is the employee’s length of employment.  Employees who work more than 20 hours per week become eligible to receive benefits under the PFL after they have been employed for 26 consecutive weeks, whereas employees who work less than 20 hours per week become eligible to receive PFL benefits after 175 days.  So long an employee meets the applicable 26-week/175-day threshold, there is no additional requirement that employees have actually worked a minimum number of hours in order to be eligible for benefits under the PFL.

5.  How much paid family leave time are eligible employees entitled to?

PFL benefits will be phased in over a 4-year period so that by 2021 when the PFL takes full effect employees in New York will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid family leave time annually for qualifying reasons.  Effective January 1, 2018, an eligible employee will be entitled to receive 8 weeks of leave paid at a rate of either 50% of the employee’s average weekly wage or 50% of New York State’s average weekly wage, whichever is less.  Effective January 1, 2019, an eligible employee will be entitled to receive 10 weeks of leave paid at a rate of either 55% of the employee’s average weekly wage or 55% of New York State’s average weekly wage, whichever is less.  Effective January 1, 2020, an eligible employee will be entitled to receive 10 weeks of leave paid at a rate of either 60% of the employee’s average weekly wage or 60% of New York State’s average weekly wage, whichever is less.  And finally, effective January 1, 2021, an eligible employee will be entitled to receive 12 weeks of leave paid at a rate of either 67% of the employee’s average weekly wage or 67% of New York State’s average weekly wage, whichever is less.

6.  How do we know what New York State’s average weekly wage is?

New York State’s average weekly wage is currently $1,305.92.  On March 31st of each calendar year, the New York State Department of Labor calculates the State’s average weekly wage based on statewide data from the prior calendar year.

7.  Whose obligation is it to pay for the paid family leave — employer or employee?

Although employers are required to provide PFL benefits to eligible employees, employers are not required to pay anything towards the cost of those benefits.  Paid family leave is intended to be 100% employee-funded.  That is not to say that employees pay themselves the actual wages they would be entitled to during periods of leave, but rather employees are required to contribute, via payroll deductions, to either the premium cost associated with the employer’s attainment of PFL insurance or to the employer’s cost for self-insuring.

One question that still remains open is whether employers may pay for PFL themselves, without taking deductions from their employees’ pay.  This question may be answered when the Workers’ Compensation Board issues final regulations later this year, so stay tuned.

8.  Is there a limit on how much can be deducted from an employee’s paycheck for PFL benefits?

Currently, 0.126% of the employee’s weekly wage up to a maximum of 0.126% of the New York State average weekly wage can be deducted from an employee’s paycheck for PFL purposes.  For example, let’s say that an employee earns $1,250 per week, which is less than the State’s average weekly wage (currently set at $1,305.92).  In that case, the maximum PFL deduction for that employee is 0.126% of that $1,250 weekly earnings, or $1.58 per week.  But if the employee earns more than the State’s average weekly wage, the maximum PFL deduction for that employee is 0.126% of the State average, or $1.65 per week.  In other words, regardless of whether the employee’s weekly earnings are $1,500 or $10,000 or even more, so long as his/her weekly earnings exceed the State average (currently set at $1,305.92), the most that can be deducted from that employee’s pay is $1.65 per week.  Just remember that the State’s average weekly wage is re-calculated each year (see Question 6 above), so the maximum amount that can be deducted from an employee’s paycheck may change each year even if the employee’s weekly wages remain the same.

9.  Is this mandatory or can employees opt out if they don’t want to participate?

This is mandatory.  With only one exception, all employees are required to contribute to the cost of PFL and must have the appropriate amounts deducted from their pay — even if they have not yet been employed long enough to themselves be entitled to benefits under the PFL.  The only exception to this is for employees (such as seasonal and temporary employees) who are hired for shorter periods of time than is necessary for them to be eligible to receive PFL benefits.  So if, for example, an employee is only hired for a two-month period of time, and therefore less than either the 26 weeks or 175 days necessary to become eligible for PFL benefits (see Question 4 above), that employee can opt out of making payroll deductions towards the cost of PFL by filing a PFL waiver with the employer.  But if that same employee’s term of employment changes so that now he/she will be employed for longer than the 26-week/175-day eligibility threshold, a previously filed opt-out waiver will be deemed revoked within eight weeks of the change, and the employee will have to make PFL deductions and make a retroactive payment for the period back to the employee’s date of hire.

10.  Can employees be required to take their accrued vacation/PTO time concurrently with this new family leave time?

No.  Unlike under the FMLA, under the PFL employees cannot be required to take vacation and other PTO time concurrently with their PFL leave.  Employees can choose to have PFL time run concurrently with any vacation or other PTO time so that they receive their full pay during periods of leave, but they cannot be required to do so.

11.  Is there a deadline for employers to decide whether to get insurance or self-insure?

Yes.  If an employer wants to forego getting insurance and to self-insure PFL benefits, the employer must elect to do so no later than September 30, 2017, by filing appropriate paperwork with the State.

We hope these answers have helped in your understanding of New York’s latest employee benefit.  Stay tuned for additional information, particularly once the Workers’ Compensation Board issues its final regulations later this year.  In the interim, our Bond team is available to answer any other questions you may have, assist with policies to address these issues, and help you navigate the PFL requirements.

The United States Supreme Court Temporarily Approves Part of Trump's Travel Ban

June 27, 2017

By Caroline M. Westover

On June 26, 2017, the final day of its judicial term before summer recess, the United States Supreme Court addressed the Trump Administration’s hotly contested travel ban. The Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision on June 26, 2017 allowing the federal government to implement a portion of the travel ban set forth in Executive Order 13780 (Protect­ing the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States), which was signed on March 6, 2017.  Recall, EO 13780 called for the suspension on the admission of all refugees for 120 days and also sought to impose a 90-day “temporary pause” on the admission of foreign nationals from six countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Supreme Court’s June 26th decision marks the latest move in the game of legal ping pong regarding the Trump Administration’s stated efforts to protect Americans and safeguard the nation’s security interests.  The Supreme Court will fully consider the legal arguments at stake when the fall session begins in October 2017.  For now, the Supreme Court’s decision will allow the Trump Administration to exclude foreign nationals from each of the six countries of concern, provided they have no “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States”.  Stated differently, if a foreign national can establish the existence of a “close familial relationship” with someone already in the United States or a formal, documented relationship with an American entity, the travel ban will not apply.  It is expected that enforcement of this limited travel ban will begin on June 29, 2017, just as the nation’s peak summer travel season gets underway.

Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court’s decision leaves a number of unanswered questions regarding the meaning of the “bona fide relationshipstandard.  In an effort to shed some light on this issue, the Supreme Court provided several examples of the circumstances that would satisfy the “bona fide relationship” standard:

  • Individuals seeking to come to the United States to live or visit a family member (i.e., spouse, mother-in-law), though it remains to be seen just how far the federal government will go to recognize a “close” familial relationships (e.g., cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc.);
  • Students who have been admitted to an educational institution in the United States;
  • Foreign nationals who have been extended, and have accepted, an offer of employment with a corporate entity in the United States;
  • Foreign nationals who have been invited to temporarily address an American audience as lecturers; and
  • Refugees who have family connections in the United States or who have connections with refugee resettlement agencies.

While the examples provided by the Supreme Court are helpful to a certain degree, they do not address all scenarios that may arise for foreign nationals seeking to enter into the United States in the immediate future. Nevertheless, it appears that individuals who currently hold valid immigrant and/or non-immigrant visas will not be subject to the travel ban.

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In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement on June 27, 2017 noting that DHS’ implementation of EO 13780 will be “done professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry”.

We will continue to apprise clients regarding any developments as they unfold.